Misery Index: Duke loss shines light on problems for Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech fans are talking a lot these days about a head coach they’ve soured on, about all the transfers on his watch, about how much it would cost to buy him out and about potential replacements, which is fantasyland message board stuff but a topic nonetheless.

What Virginia Tech fans aren’t talking about nearly enough, though, is whether their view of what Virginia Tech should be matches up with the reality they’re living in.

Frank Beamer’s run of eight conference titles (Big East and ACC) along with seven top-10 finishes between 1995 and 2010 was unprecedented and almost miraculous. It’s also, quite frankly, never going to be repeated in our lifetimes.

That’s not to excuse games like Duke 45, Virginia Tech 10 inside Lane Stadium on Friday night, the worst home loss in 45 years. It’s not to excuse how fragile Justin Fuente’s teams have been recently with lopsided losses at the end of last year to the likes of Pittsburgh and Miami (Fla.) Or the lethargy even in wins early this season against Old Dominion and Furman.

But this is why coaches are warned about following legends. When the historical standard isn’t being met, it doesn’t take much for panic to set in. As of today, Fuente is a coach with a 10-win season and a nine-win season under his belt who, admittedly, is going through a rough patch.

FOOTBALL FOUR:Clemson falls out, Auburn rises to top of playoff chase.

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WEEK 5 OBSERVATIONS:Clemson is ranked No. 1 but it isn’t the best team.

If that’s not enough at Virginia Tech, though, maybe the problem is Virginia Tech.

Just because you flirted with a national title in the 1990s and were able to win the ACC a few times while Florida State was bumbling around at the end of Bobby Bowden’s tenure and before Clemson became Clemson doesn’t change the facts on the ground.

Virginia Tech is a very good program, but it’s a tough job in a small mountain town in a state where the best players are a five-hour drive away. The other prime recruiting areas geographically like Charlotte and Washington, D.C., Are heavily mined by ACC and SEC powers. And without a Hall of Fame coach to draw players to Blacksburg, what exactly is going to make the difference in recruiting between Virginia Tech and a half-dozen other programs in the region?

Of course, it’s Fuente’s job to figure that out. Though his last three recruiting classes have all ended up ranked right around No. 25, which seems pretty reasonable for a program like Virginia Tech, the narrative that he’s not a good recruiter has been set. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech spent the summer talking publicly about locker room problems at the end of last year that were supposed to be fixed by the bad apples transferring elsewhere.

That hasn’t worked out, either. But unless the bottom completely falls out — and even maybe then — Fuente isn’t going anywhere for at least another year. And Hokies fans know it, which makes them No. 1 in the Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.

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Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ tradition of releasing red balloons into the sky after they score their first touchdown is, frankly, a pretty bad practice that should probably be reconsidered given the harm balloons pose to birds and the environment generally. But nevertheless, many thousands of fans inside Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium had their balloons ready for launch Saturday against Ohio State with a juiced up night atmosphere and College GameDay in town for the first time in a dozen years. But by the time the Buckeyes took a 24-0 lead in the second quarter, videos started to surface on Twitter of some Nebraska fans going ahead and letting go of their balloons, a metaphor perhaps for their hopes that this season would be different from so many that came before. The most difficult thing to accept about Nebraska’s start to Scott Frost’s second season is that they don’t even look like they’re playing as well as they did at the end of his first. Nebraska has won three games it was supposed to win and looked unimpressive in two of them. It lost a toss-up at Colorado and looked totally outclassed by Ohio State in a 48-7 loss. The hard part to reconcile is that Frost was publicly confident, almost boastful, about the Huskers’ prospects for a breakthrough this season during his summer media tours. The fact that he was this far off the mark in evaluating his own team should be just as concerning to fans as the level of play.

Mississippi State: Fans in Starkville appreciated everything Dan Mullen did to elevate their program into a higher level than it was able to achieve historically. But once the Bulldogs reached No. 1 for a time in 2014, things changed. The bar was raised, the expectations grew and when Mississippi State failed to reach those heights again, some fans had gotten bored and were ready for something new. But maybe those fans now realize how comfortable they had gotten with the level of success Mullen achieved, because at least right now that seems to be pretty far in the rear-view mirror. Mississippi State was not competitive at all in a 56-23 loss at Auburn on Saturday, which was a reminder how rare nights like that were under Mullen. Though Mullen suffered an odd blowout here or there against Alabama or a team like Georgia, Mississippi State was generally able to hang in and sometimes beat teams with more talent. So far, Joe Moorhead hasn’t shown the ability to do the same. Though the Bulldogs are probably going to win seven or eight games this year — which was a fairly typical Mullen season — fans are seeing a lesser quality of football and don’t like it very much.

South Florida: The Bulls have played three FBS teams this season. They have lost to all three. The combined score of those games? 111-31. Not much more than that needs to be said about the sorry state of South Florida football, although they’re fortunate to be playing a team that appears just as inept next Saturday in Connecticut. But in the bigger picture, it’s hard to see how this is acceptable in any way for South Florida, which may reach the point where there’s no choice but to buy out Charlie Strong. How much that would cost is a bit of a mystery. Most of Strong’s compensation is tied to a private foundation that doesn’t have to disclose the contract terms, but the cost seems likely to be around $5 million. That’s a lot to cough up for a cash-crunched program like South Florida, which is trying to spend the money it has on facilities rather than fired coaches. But the Bulls have gone from bad at the end of last season (they lost six straight after starting 7-0) to non-competitive this year, which is the opposite of what was supposed to happen by Strong’s third year. It’s time to do something different or risk digging the hole even deeper.

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Northwestern: At this point in the season, Pat Fitzgerald has had more viral press conference rants (two) than wins (one). In the first at Big Ten media days, he blamed people’s obsession with their cell phones for the decline in college football attendance. Though he had a point about how phone addiction and Instagram moments contribute an unhealthy aspect to society’s evolution, he didn’t seem to give proper credence to the notion that the product isn’t compelling enough to keep fans buying tickets. Which, in Northwestern’s case, would certainly be a good excuse to stay home. The Wildcats are 1-3 and pretty hideous offensively, as their 24-15 loss at Wisconsin showed. The Badgers didn’t even play particularly well, but they held Northwestern to 255 yards, 5-of-20 on third down and scored two defensive touchdowns in building a 24-3 lead. Northwestern banked a lot this year on Clemson transfer and former blue-chip recruit Hunter Johnson at quarterback, but his struggles have made Fitzgerald’s offense appear non-functional. But if you’re a fan who has a problem with that, Fitzgerald suggested recently to email your suggestions to “Hashtag I don’t care,” creating another viral moment for him. It may end up being the highlight of the season.


Washington State: Despite all the acclamatory profiles given to Mike Leach and his so-called “quirkiness,” he’s always been a blame-the-players guy when times get tough. So it was pretty predictable after The Cougars’ 38-13 loss at Utah, which followed their meltdown against UCLA last week, that Leach unloaded on his favorite target. “If we get any resistance, we fold, and what’s amazing about this is most of these guys were on the same team last year that was a tough team,” Leach told the media. “And we got nearly the same guys and now all the sudden they’re not tough. You know? They’re fat, dumb and happy and entitled.” He continued: “We’ve got a bunch of free agents running around there that think they’re pretty special and as soon as something doesn’t go their way they want to pout.” And finally, he blamed “sitting around the apartments all the time talking about how great we’re going to be” in the offseason and playing “streetball” rather than sticking to his system. This schtick probably appeals to a certain brand of fan, but would it kill Leach to point the finger a little more at the guy who recruited those “soft, entitled” players and makes nearly $4 million a year?

Texas A&M: The overwhelming emotion in Aggieland was not relief Saturday after holding off Arkansas, 31-27. It was bewilderment about how the expectations coming into this season got so far out of whack with the actual on-field product, which is still quite mediocre in Jimbo Fisher’s second season. And they aren’t paying him $7.5 million a year for mediocre. Though many will look at Kellen Mond’s ineffectiveness and immediately theorize that Fisher has lost his touch with quarterbacks, but biggest culprit has to be the running game and offensive line play. The Aggies have struggled to run all year against quality opponents, but it was downright shocking to see them average just 2.7 yards per rush on 33 attempts against Arkansas, which has been pretty poor defensively all year. Are teams stacking up the run because they don’t think Mond can beat them throwing, or is Texas A&M’s inability to run putting Mond in an impossible position? Either way, Fisher is getting paid — handsomely — to get that figured out.

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Kansas: Well, if nothing else, Les Miles will always have that magical night in Chestnut Hill when he threw caution to the wind, rode the RPO train and put 48 points on Boston College. Kansas should probably go back to doing that. Because whatever it’s been doing the rest of the time is, to put it mildly, not so good. Nobody said it was going to be easy to turn this thing around, but literally any coach in the world could have gone to TCU and lost 51-14 while gaining just eight first downs and 159 yards of offense, much of which came in the fourth quarter. The Jayhawks had six three-and-outs out of their first eight drives, which is on-brand in the worst way possible.

Georgia Tech: If there was any good news to come out of a 24-2 loss to Temple, it’s that the players first-year Yellow Jackets coach Geoff Collins recruited to Temple over the last few years seem to be pretty good. At the same time, whenever you play a football game, you never want “2” to be the number that shows up next to your team’s name. Heck, getting shut out is less embarrassing than finishing a game where the only way your team could score is via a safety. That’s a special, almost iconic level of ineptitude, which has kind of been the theme all along for Georgia Tech as it makes the transition from the option to a more pro-style offense. The Yellow Jackets had a chance to take the early lead after a 15-play, 85-yard drive but fumbled at the Temple goal line and never really put together another drive of consequence all day while committing two more turnovers. Fans are going to be patient, but getting to the destination will be ugly.

Rutgers: Welcome home, old friend. After a blowout win over Massachusetts to open the year and some small signs of competence early in the season, there was a notion that Rutgers might actually be a somewhat improving program and remove itself from weekly Misery Index consideration. But after a 52-0 loss to Michigan, the Scarlet Knights are right back where they belong because they have now been shut out twice this year in Big Ten play and eight times in their last 28 conference games.


“When are we going to get serious about steroids again” – Huskeronline.Com.

“Brent and that defense saved Dabo’s and offense year and job” – Tigernet.Com.

“Nephew (Clemson grad) texted that he was praying for me.” – Techsideline.Com.

“Are we the best 6-6 team in the country?” – Texags.Com.

“Good thing we got rid of the option” – stingtalk.Com.

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